Book Review: Nona the Ninth

Tamsyn Muir has a distinct voice and a talent for writing prose that reveals nothing, hints at everything, and keeps you reading.

I don’t really know how to describe Muir’s writing to you. She manages to combine grimdark, internet culture, bible references, and Tumblr together into a compelling narrative. What’s more, Muir doesn’t mind reminding us that she will do whatever she wants and we will probably like it.

Nona the Ninth (NtN) is the third entry in what is now the Locked Tomb Series, it was originally a trilogy, but all of us who have ever tried to make something out of an idea know that these things inevitably grow.

The greatest warning I have to give about this book is that it is slow. Telling the story from the perspective of someone who is practically a child was a brave choice. Somehow, NtN manages to be a book in which nothing happens, a lot is revealed, and a plot where nothing but loose threads remain.

I really liked this book, it’s certainly not for everyone, but read this modern science fantasy novel if…

  • You grew up on Tumblr
  • You want to dive into an active cosplay, and theory community
  • You want to finish a book with more questions than you started it with
  • You don’t care if the POV and authorial voice changes from chapter to chapter or book to book (Muir does this very well).
  • You want to sympathize with necromancers.
  • You like campy dialogue and internet culture.

If you have no idea what I am talking about, go read the first book in this series; Gideon the Ninth. If you want to tell me I’m wrong or just chat, come find me on Twitter. If you have any specific theories or thoughts about Nona the Ninth or the greater Locked Tomb Series leave a comment below.

A Month-ish With The Cheap Projector I Bought On Amazon

And it only got lost in the mail once.

A few months ago my partner and I got the idea to get a projector. We have high ceilings, a lot of bare walls, and not much use for them. So we started looking for a projector. There are a lot of options out there, especially now with companies like Anker getting into the portable projector market. You can get a lot of features for $500 like a rechargeable battery and integrated storage, but honestly, I can’t think of many actual use cases for those. Sure, it’s a nice idea, but how often are you going to go camping and bring a projector screen to you?

So after doing a bit of research and not seeing any huge difference in specs between the $500 and $100 options I decided to go with this little Topvision projector, which was on sale at the time and only $80. It has a 1080p resolution and enough inputs that I can plug a Roku stick and a pair of old bose speakers into. Now we have a great home movie setup in our bedroom.

It’s not perfect of course, sometimes the projector develops a fault, which I have found can be easily fixed by smacking it. We also wait to use it until after dark, when the image will be clearer. A brighter bulb seems to be the main advantage of getting a more expensive projector, but I think this one works just fine for us. It’s great for watching movies and television late at night and makes the entire experience much more cinematic.

I enthusiastically recommend one for anyone who has the wall space. You can go to this page for more product and book recommendations from yours truly.

Four Hard Science Fiction Books You Should Read

The last title of the Expanse series is a callback to the title of the first.

A genre made popular by the recent explosion of the Expanse by James SA Corey and its television adaptation, hard science fiction is a genre with a history as old as science fiction itself. With the series complete, this is the time to explore other greats of the genre, including one with a future movie adaptation by none other than Dennis Villeneuve.

We’re about to experience a renaissance of science fiction movies and television. With luck, more of these books will be adapted soon.

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

Alastair Reynold's flair for the existential vastness of space is evoked in the series cover art

Alastair Reynolds began his career as an astrophysicist working for the European Space Agency. He is an extremely prolific writer of short stories, many of which take place in the Revelation Space setting and provide the novels with greater context. Read this book if you are looking for epic interstellar adventures at sub-light speeds.

Check out my essay on mind uploading in fiction if you want to read about Revelation Space and related works.

Blue Collar Space by Martin L. Shoemaker

A commercial shuttle is seen leaving a ring station

Blue Collar Space is a rejection of “Big Man Science Fiction” that focuses on the people who built the future those larger-than-life characters exist in. Its subjects include civil engineers on the moon, father-daughter lunar hikes gone wrong, and other examples of people living their lives and saving humanity in less glamorous ways. Read it if you want to be immersed in lives that our descendants might one day live out in space.

The Quiet War by Paul McAuley

This is another series that gets the vastness of space right

Of the four books on this list “Gardens of the Sun” has the most in common with the Expanse. It envisions a future where Earth has been wracked by climate change and the remaining authoritarian empires on Earth devote most of their resources to shape and rebuild the ruined environment. Genetic engineering has made many things impossible, including novel synthetic ecosystems in the outer solar system. With Earth’s governments on the verge of developing a new and improved fusion engine, the many settlements of the solar system are wary of an increased Earth presence in the outer solar system. Read this book if you want a future mix of political scheming, warfare, and hopeful but sometimes strange depictions of future science.

I also just learned that you can get the Quiet War and its Sequel Gardens of the Sun in one big omnibus edition. I’ll be doing a re-read of this series soon so keep yours eyes out for more posts about it.

Rendevous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

Perhaps the most minimalist title of the bunch

A classic of the hard science fiction genre. “Rendevous With Rama” is a science fiction classic that follows a group of astronauts sent on a detour to a massive alien ship that is using our Sun to perform a slingshot maneuver. While the governments of Earth and the other planets debate how to respond to the object, the scientists of Earth scramble to understand the object and advise a team of accidental explorers on how to make the best use of their limited time exploring the object. Read this book if you want a story that evokes a sense of the unknowable and the vast scale of our universe. You should also read it if you plan to watch the upcoming Dennis Vilneuve adaptation.

Book Review: After the Revolution by Robert Evans

I finished reading a book. Which for me is saying quite a lot. This time I finished reading After the Revolution by Robert Evans.

After the Revolution by Robert Evans
I borrowed this image from AK Press, an anarchist publishing house.

These days have a dozen or so books that I am “reading” at any one time, so actually finishing one is quite remarkable. This book is remarkable too, for a few reasons.

About Robert Evans

First off, it’s a book published by an anarchist publishing house called AK Press. They’re completely democratic and worker-owned. They also publish about twenty books every year. They’re really cool and you should check them out.

The second is that it’s a book by Robert Evans, who you may know for his work as a journalist, his multiple podcasts, or his time at Cracked.com. Or maybe even from his other book, A Brief History of Vice.

This is Evans’ first foray into fiction and it doesn’t disappoint. If you have listened to his podcast “Behind the Bastards” you can tell that he has read a lot of fiction and non-fiction for both fun and profit. It’s always exciting when someone who can reference classic science fiction so readily and critique Ben Shapiro’s terrible science fiction so fiercely decided to publish their own book.

Setting and Characters

A map of Austin TX and its surroundings
After the Revolution references Texas geography a lot. If you’re like me and not a native a map will probably help. Link.

After the Revolution takes place in a post-USA North America, where the former states have balkanized into a handful of smaller states, each of them experimenting with different ways of living. Kind of. The most direct successor of the USA, the AmFed, seems like a pretty safe place to live but also pretty dull. The moving city of posthuman nomads lovingly named “Rolling Fuck” where alcohol and narcotics flow freely at all times of the day seems a lot more fun.

This book is set primarily in the failed libertarian experiment that is the Republic of Texas. It’s not a very stable polity. The Free City of Austin and the Secular Defense Force (SDF) are the main players were care about in terms of sane governments. The other is the Heavenly Kingdom, a group of christofascist militias with an excellent command of social media and propaganda, and also a willingness to shell civilian neighborhoods into submission at the first sign of resistance. At the start of the book this conflict has been simmering for years, but that is about to change. That brings us to the three POV characters we get to follow.

Manny – a fixer who was born and raised in Austin. Manny makes a living by making introductions for foreign journalists. He has dreams of saving up to move to a less violent part of the world, like Europe.

Roland – a posthuman combat vet with almost no memory of his past. Roland prefers to spend his days ingesting as many drugs as he can get his hands on. He does this to dull his enhanced senses while he works very hard to avoid killing people. He is very good at killing people and is nearly unkillable himself.

Sasha – a nice studious girl attending high school in the AmFed. She became radicalized online and even fell in love with a soldier fighting for the Heavenly Kingdom. She’s been hiding her allegiance from her parents for two years while she prepares to emigrate to the Heavenly Kingdom and work to see God’s will done on Earth.

The Verdict

Now, I’m just going to say it, I really enjoyed this book. I don’t normally take an interest in stories that fall into the twenty-minutes-into-the-future category but honestly, that’s a mistake on my part. With the exception of some especially magical nanobot healing, Evans created a setting that feels real and not too far away from the present.

In the acknowledgments, Evans says that this is a book mainly about trauma, and we are presented with a lot of characters who are all dealing with trauma in different ways. What I think he did so masterfully, was craft a future America that could feel real and relatable, no doubt thanks to his experience as a war correspondent in the Middle East. We tend to otherize the people who are victimized by western bombing campaigns in the Middle East. Evans does a phenomenal job portraying scenes we expect to see on the news overseas as taking place on a continent more familiar to us. The book challenges us to otherize the characters but we can’t help but empathize with them.

I think this is a really great book. Robert Evans did a fantastic job of envisioning a future where all the bad things that we don’t like to imagine happening here actually could. Easily 5/5, especially when the novel stands on its own. The ending leaves room for possible sequels but doesn’t require them. If you’re hesitant about buying a copy for yourself you can listen to the book online. But I really recommend buying a copy if you can afford it to support a smaller press.

Stay tuned for a series of reviews of Brian McClellan’s new book; In The Shadow Of Lightning.

Can We Take A Moment To Appreciate How Cool Dune’s Sardaukar Are?

Okay, actually let’s take about twenty moments to appreciate them. Youtuber Invicta posted this video of Sardaukar lore a few days ago.

Herbert’s Freman and Sardaukar as cultures fascinate me. I think Villeneuve did an amazing job portraying their dedication to the emperor and their martial prowess. I can’t wait to see the Freman truly unleashed in Dune II. If you’re wondering where the lore in Invicta’s video came from, check out the prequel books written by Brian Herbert in the universe his father wrote into existence. Invicta’s video was sponsored by Dune Spice Wars. Can anyone who played it tell me what they thought?

1922

A very belated movie review.

This movie came out back in 2017 and I’m reviewing it now, why? Because it’s 2021 and I finally got around to watching it. The story is about a man, his wife, and his wife’s land. Also, he killed his wife. Also, it’s based on a 2010 novella by Stephen King.

When I saw the trailer for this I expected a dark supernatural thriller where a man named Wilfred kills his wife. What I got was much more. The movie is spooky, with plenty of horrors, but it might not be supernatural. The movie is dark, sad, and suspenseful. Yet everything Wilfred is subjected to could be either supernatural or natural. All of it could be the doing of a vengeful spirit or just the torment of a guilty conscience. But then, Wilf talks a lot about heaven and hell so maybe it’s a story about divine judgment.

I’d give it a 3.8/5.

It’s a solid movie. It’s the kind of movie that makes you pay attention to it. It’s intense, quiet, has more than its fair share of gruesome, and it’s very very well made. Go give it a watch.

What is Vancian Magic?

You might have heard that the magic used by the spellcasters of Dungeons & Dragons is “Vancian magic.” Just that is probably enough for you to discern that the magic of dungeons and dragons falls under a “type” of magic systems employed by fantasy writers and worldbuilders. But what is Vancian magic?

Vancian Magic gets its name from the speculative fiction author Jack Vance who won many awards during his life. A few of his stories include the Dying Earth Series, which has inspired an anthology titled Songs of the Dying Earth. In his works, Vance portrayed an Earth far in the future when the continents have rearranged, and the Sun has just a few million years left.

The wizards of this distant future are limited to knowing just a small handful of spells at a time. Two, three, maybe four if they work hard. Once they cast a spell, they forget it and have to memorize it again later. Why is this? It’s clear that memorizing a spell takes a great deal of mental effort, and some characters allude to these spells having a basis in math. Because only a handful of spells can be known at once, the wizards of this world spend their time creating things, and when they anticipate a need, they sit down and memorize spells that they think they might need.

From all this we can make a few “rules” to describe a Vancian magic system.

  1. Magic is a scholarly affair.
  2. Memorizing a spell takes a great amount of effort.
  3. Casters are limited to memorizing just a few spells at a time.
  4. Once a spell is cast it must be learned again.

Lastly, we have the flavor! One of my favorite things about Vancian Magic! Many of the spells in these systems will be named after their creators. I know many writers will probably use these names as throwaways without any deeper backstory, but I love the sense of history that the names imply.

Beyond the Aquila Rift by Alastair Reynolds versus Beyond the Aquila Rift from Love, Death & Robots

I was torn when I did this for Zima Blue. I understand that movies will always be different from the stories they are based on. These differences are completely understandable in many cases. Some things don’t translate well, would be too expensive to depict, or need to be cut for the sake of time. In Love, Death & Robots, the screenwriters only had about ten minutes for each story. That isn’t a lot of time to portray the complexity of even a short story. With that in mind, I think Netflix could have done a lot better with this one.

Beyond the Aquilla Rift is about a starship that finds itself light years off course. The ship’s captain emerges from hibernation to find that he has traveled so far for so long that everyone he ever knew back home is long dead. But it’s not all bad because at this remote outpost, he meets an old flame by the name of “Greta.” Greta changes her story a few times but eventually tells him that her ship became stranded in this remote locale through a mishap similar to what stranded his. This is also a lie. His ship is, in fact, the first human ship to ever arrive at this remote station. The captain, we learn, never woke up from hibernation. Everything he experienced was a simulation fed to him by the entity that took care of all the lost souls that came to it.

The animation LDR’s version is gorgeous, and like all good sci-fi, the ending both answers questions and introduces new ones. But I can’t bring myself to hold both versions at the same level as I did with Zima Blue. They are different, and that is okay, but the adaptation makes too many jumps. The protagonist’s realization that things are not as they seem is far too abrupt. Rather than spend as much time as they did on a gratuitous sex scene, I think the writers would have done the story better justice if they had shown us some of the inconsistencies in the simulation, the little details that hinted that something just wasn’t right.

If I had to give both a rating, I would say the LDR’s version would get a 2/5, and the original written version would get a 3.5/5. I am not a fan of this kind of story in general, but I think it is well done. LDR’s version is visually stunning, but it doesn’t show us enough to really understand the predicament the protagonist finds himself in.

I hope you liked this review. Because I just found out that all the short stories that inspired season one is available as a single anthology, so there are going to be a lot more posts like this.

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

Revelation Space (The Inhibitor Trilogy Book 1) by [Alastair Reynolds]
Book One of the Inhibitor Trilogy

Lately, I have been listening to a lot of audiobooks. It’s helped to make tedious tasks more enjoyable, and it has helped me cross A LOT of books off of my to-be-read list. A few of these books have been Alastair Reynolds’ Inhibitor Trilogy. These books have me obsessed.

For those who don’t know, Alastair Reynolds is a prolific science fiction author who studied astrophysics with the European Space Agency. He holds a doctorate in astronomy and his experience shines through in his writing.

He has an incredibly engaging style that he peppers with just the right amount of scientific jargon to make his settings convincing. He also does an amazing job of bringing seemingly disparate story threads together at the end in ways so obvious in retrospect.

I could go on and on about why I like these books. Instead, I want to talk about one thing that Reynolds does very well. Conflict. Or should I call it fluff? You know those fight scenes that drag on too long or the infiltrations that seem a little too contrived? I know I can’t be the only one, which is why I was so happy when Reynolds chose to fade to black for those scenes that another author might instead drag along for a chapter or two.

That’s not to say that these books don’t have fight scenes or are free of violence, but Reynolds seems to know exactly how much of the fight we need to be shown, and much of the violence in the series takes place between starships. Starships so far apart that a commander will not know if their attack was successful for several hours. In a book like this, conflict is best shown through the thoughts and worries of the commanders rather than the minutia that many authors get stuck in.

Fantastic books. 5/5. Go read.